The agony of defeat. Anyone over 30 who hears these words instantly pictures a doomed skier reeling end-over-end down an ice-coated mountain slope at Concordian speeds, assorted femurs, ulnas, and patellas splintering with each uncontrolled crash to the ground.
Although much of my upbringing took place in upstate New York, I've always had about as much affinity for winter sports as I do for that pointless white mucous that binds itself to egg yolks. In fact, I would like to avow that I have never participated in any type of winter sport. Except that I can't do that because my uncle has a super-8 home movie of me falling butt-first onto the ice during my first and last attempt at skating at about age 12. This film has been the source of endless amusement at family parties, where it is routinely played in reverse, fast- forward, slow motion, stop action, and freeze frame. The Warren Commission didn't analyze the Zapruder film as much as my family has studied the angle at which my tailbone first struck the ice.
After that incident, all petitions from family and friends to participate in winter sports such as skiing, skating, sledding, etc. were met with a maniacal laughter that would rival that of Daffy Duck's on PCP. That's why I moved to South Florida, where it's so warm that just getting from the front door to the car door requires the intravenous intake of supplemental fluids. I'd much rather see lizards the size of dachshunds climbing the living room walls than be threatened with participation in any sports that entail Sherpas, snow blindness, and the removal of necrotic tissue.
So what happens a few years after I move down here? Professional hockey comes to the Sunshine State, a sports-marketing concept about as shrewd as a nude roller derby franchise in Amish country.
Prior to my first NHL game, my only experience with hockey had been a college game I attended where the match was halted for 47 minutes after a left wing named Skriig Nornferndensen lost control of a slap shot and sent it careening into the mouth of one Velma Heston, who, like me, was at her first hockey game and was not expecting to be struck in the teeth by an airborne wedge of frozen vulcanized rubber moving at twice the speed of sound. I left when the announcer said, "If anyone has located Mrs. Heston's right bicuspid please return it to the lost and found office. Thank you."
Since then, I've tried to reconnect myself to my icy northern roots by following this most aboriginal of sports. But it's nuances, much like Mrs. Heston's teeth, escape me.
Basically, the game is played by six men per team, whose objective is to skate across the ice while flailing a puck toward the opposing players' goal, a level of strategy that can be accurately comprehended by most igneous rock formations. The players are usually wan, almost transparent, Aryan men with names containing more syllables than William F. Buckley's graduate-school thesis.
Because of the fast pace and the unpronounceable names, hockey announcers have to be among the most skilled in broadcasting. For example, one announcer recently said the following in just under seven seconds:
"Goudnynkoven overtakes Schnitzensteinman, he fakes the pass to Sprudenfayer and shoots. Blocked by La St. Robespierre! He passes to MacKlognehie who gets it up the ice, but it's intercepted by Van Landermanen, and . . . KAHAACKPTH!"
Paramedics later found his tongue in his shoe.
Hockey's most prominent feature, as many are aware, is the propensity for fighting among the players, many of whom will gleefully excise someone's trachea simply for singing off-key during the Canadian national anthem. That's what they do to their teammates. What they do to their opponents generally isn't discussed outside of autopsy seminars. Most hockey fans have become so inured to this intense violence that they will grab a beer and a hot dog and cheer with deranged insanity at the mere sight of a group of elderly women bickering over a game of whist. Yet, the announcers still manage to affect disdain for the spectacle.
Announcer 1: Lars "The Gasher" Sorenson clears the puck and heads up the ice, but wait, here comes Ingmar "Marrow Mulcher" Vladstrom! Oh! It's a hip check into the boards and Sorenson's head is wedged between the Plexiglas shields. Boy, ya' hate to see this kind of thing.
Announcer 2: Yeah, Bob. It gives a good sport a bad name.
Announcer 1: Sorenson's still got some jagged shards of Plexiglas sticking out of his neck but he's charging Vladstrom! Oh! He's standing on Vladstrom's face. Gotta wonder how he's gonna skate with all those teeth stuck to his blades, don'cha Tony? Boy, ya' sure hate to see this kind of thing.
Announcer 2: Yeah, Bob. It gives a good sport a bad name. Hey, Bob, what's that thing protruding from Vladstrom's shoulder?
Announcer 1: Looks like a hip socket. Boy, ya' really hate to see this kind of thing. By the way, where's the puck?
Announcer 2: Uh-oh. Looks like Mrs. Heston's taken it in the teeth again.
Announcer 1: Boy, ya' just hate to see this kind of thing.
Adapted from an article originally published in Life and Leisure magazine, March 1994.
© 2011 Steven Ricci
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